Everybody in Pittsburgh knows that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a good offensive line. They have the rare privilege of consistency in personnel that is now uncommon in the NFL, with all five starting linemen returning for the third consecutive season (and they have been a cohesive starting unit for most of four seasons).
Even Pro Football Focus recognizes that they have one of the top offensive lines in the NFL, and recently projected them to have the number four line in the league for the 2018 season. Even though the site actually graded them as the 12th-best line by the end of the 2017 season, they are expecting the group to excel this year.
“2018 marks the third-straight season that the Steelers will have their starting five intact heading into the year”, writes Michael Renner. “Expectations were ridiculously high for them heading into 2017, but an injury to Marcus Gilbert and uncharacteristic down year from Ramon Foster hampered their effectiveness. Still the entire starting five is 30 years old or younger and capable of recapturing their 2016 form”.
The Steelers legitimately rounded out the 2016 season boasting the best, full stop, offensive line in the entire league, with every single starter from the left side to the right playing arguably the best football of their lives.
That was especially true of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who was at the time in his first full season as a starter. He was the swing tackle by default due to injury, and when Kelvin Beachum suffered a torn ACL in the first half of the season, it was up to him to step up and learn on the job. He did.
Villanueva never quite reached the same height of play as he did by the end of the 2016 season, but he did level off some of his peaks and valleys, though he still has the issue of getting out of the gate slowly.
I also agree with the site’s observation of Foster having a bit of a down year, and argue that Maurkice Pouncey had one as well, at least by his standards, though I certainly don’t stand behind the tangible number grades that they assigned to them.
The biggest difference that the group could receive as a whole for the 2018 season would be a fully healthy season from Gilbert at right tackle. He is arguably a top-five talent at his position, worthy of Pro Bowl consideration when he is at his best, but he has had comparatively few opportunities to show it recently.
It goes without saying that right guard David DeCastro is the nucleus of the group in terms of on-field play, often dictating and setting the tone. He has really grown into his own since he came in the league as a socially timid rookie in 2012, and now quietly dominates on a weekly basis. Enjoy watching him while you can. That’s all I can say.